Fake! Culture, Capitalism, and Authenticity
Is the pleasure of a forged Vermeer less than that of a real one? Who recognizes the difference? Who cares? What is fiction if not an elaborate fake? In a culture of the copy, where is reality located in relation to representation? In what context is artifice harmful? The word “fake” has played a disproportionate role in politics over the past four years. In this highly polarized political environment, reality has acquired a distinct moral character. But “fake” does not actually mean “wrong,” and our relationship to artifice is far from a straightforward division between ignorance and enlightenment. Where do we draw the line between real and fake? How do we “prove” the difference? Why does it matter—and should it?
In this course, we will explore the concept of the fake as a way to think about community and class formation, identity, race, pleasure, culture, and consumer capitalism. From the pleasurable suspension of disbelief to the indignation of the unwilling mark, the individual experience of fakery bears a complex and varied relationship to knowledge and agency. What role do distinctions between real and fake play in the formation of social groups, in separating insiders from outsiders? We will begin with a general consideration of fakery and counterfeiting in American history and culture, before proceeding to an examination of fake art, monuments, and architectural replicas; fake nature (from plastic flowers to man-made lakes and invented animals); and finally fake people from doppelgangers to identity thieves and the whole spectrum of fakery and performance that a social interaction entails. We will read Umberto Eco, Jean Baudrillard, Neil Harris on P.T. Barnum, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Jose Saramago, Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, and look at the self-forgeries of Giorgio de Chirico, the appropriations and pseudonyms of Marcel Duchamp and Sherrie Levine, consider Museums of natural history and Jurassic technology, and explore the dense legacy of scientific, archeological, and exploratory hoaxes.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
January 31 — February 21, 2022